Wisconsin follows “whatever it takes” theme in defeating Minnesota for national championship

 (2015 Matt Dewkett Photography)
Wisconsin celebrates its national championship victory on Sunday, March 24 (photo: Matt Dewkett Photography).

HAMDEN, Conn. — The Wisconsin Badgers are the 2019 women’s D-I hockey national champions as they claimed their fifth NCAA title with a 2-0 win over Minnesota on Sunday on the campus of Quinnipiac University.

The Badgers were powered by goals from senior captains Sophia Shaver and Annie Pankowski and a 27-save shutout from junior goalie Kristen Campbell. Campbell was named Most Outstanding Player of the tournament after not allowing a goal in three NCAA tournament games. The shutout was the 11th of her season, and she set a new program record for goalie wins by backstopping Wisconsin to a 34-4-2 record.

It was the sixth-straight trip to the Frozen Four for the Badgers, but their first title since 2011. They had advanced to the title game just once in those previous five tries, losing to Clarkson in 2017. Their run to the title this year had an edge of revenge and redemption to it, and the story was capped off with a defeat of their biggest rival.

Fittingly, it was two Minnesota natives who paired up on the game-winner for Wisconsin. Junior Presley Norby was deep in the zone and digging along the boards before she broke free toward the back of the net. She dished it to Shaver, who was in position in front of the net and was able to slot the puck home to give the Badgers the 1-0 lead 10:20 into the first.

The Gophers struggled for much of the game to settle into their own game. Coach Brad Frost said it felt like his team was a half-second or half-inch off of completing plays, but couldn’t get the bounces to go their way. Their biggest opportunity came early in the second period when they had two power plays in the first eight minutes, but even with the player advantage they could not seem to connect.

“We were willing to do whatever it takes to get the puck out whenever we needed to,” said Campbell.

Wisconsin tallied 20 blocks for the game, and senior Maddie Rolfes said being so familiar with the Gophers helped the Badgers to adjust and gave them confidence.

Minnesota senior Kelly Pannek said the Gophers felt like they were on the verge of scoring in the second power play, but instead, Wisconsin scored short-handed, something that deflated the Gophers a bit and put the game solidly in the Badgers’ control.

Pankowski tallied her 13th point in the postseason by scoring her 11th goal in seven games to make it 2-0 Badgers. Junior Abby Roque gathered the puck in the neutral zone with her back to the net and fed Pankowski, who was speeding into the zone. She took the puck wide and looked like she might just cycle to kill more of the penalty, but then found a seam between the post and Gophers goalie Alex Gulstene to double the lead.

The win was poignant for a number of players on the Wisconsin roster, but maybe no one more so than Campbell, who two years ago was a member of the University of North Dakota women’s hockey team that no longer exists. Known to be a perfectionist, Pankowski said that Campbell has been visualizing this win and what it would take from the moment the Badgers were knocked out of the postseason last year.

“It wasn’t a fluke; she was ready,” said Pankowski.

Despite his history as the winningest coach in Division I women’s hockey, Johnson spoke about the difficulty of taking a season from start to finish and ending with the title. This year, he said, he felt relieved that the team he had was rewarded and would go out with this title to their name.

“It’s hard to do. It’s hard to win championships. Everybody’s got to be willing to sacrifice their own individual egos for what’s best for the team. Everybody has to buy in.”

The Badgers ended the regular season on a down note. When they failed to get more than two points in their final series with Ohio State, it gave Minnesota the regular season title. After that weekend, the Badgers regrouped, and Pankowski said they agreed the feeling of handing away a title was not one they wanted to have again.
Wisconsin buckled down, sweeping St. Cloud State in the opening round of the WCHA playoffs. They gave up three goals at the Final Faceoff, but walked away victorious and were not scored on again.

“We didn’t look back; we just came into the playoffs with the best team chemistry and the best confidence,” said Rolfes.

The team’s theme for the championship squad was “whatever it takes,” and with the game-winning goal coming from the team’s third line, it was clear that the entire Wisconsin squad was on board with making sure the season didn’t end in disappointment this time around.